Why we DON’T do the “Sugar Sprite” tradition

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I remember when I first heard about the sugar sprite/sugar fairy.

It was way back when Michael was just a baby, 13 years ago on the WE_HS egroup. The earliest version I could find came from Kytka, back when she ran Hedgehog Farms (how’s that for a blast from the past?).

The Sugar Sprite

As the weather becomes colder, the Sugar Sprite requires more sugar to
keep warm than she needs in the summer months. So, on Halloween, children
dress up in costumes and go to their friends’ and neighbors’ houses to
collect candy for the needy sprite. Although they do sample some candy along the
way while walking around in the cold night air, Sugar Sprite children place
their candy at the foot of their beds (or outside the front door, etc.)
before going to sleep. During the night, the friendly Sugar Sprite comes in, takes
the candy and leaves a gift of thanks. The Sugar Sprite knows what all
children like, but sometimes the children write letters or make pictures for
the sprite about a week before Halloween so she doesn’t get confused (she
has to visit a lot of children to collect enough sugar for the coming winter!)

I have a couple of friends who do this, and I in no way judge them for it. At first reading, I think it’s a very sweet little story. But when I thought about it for a bit, I realized that it didn’t quite sit well with me. Meditating on it, I saw several issues.

First off, it just seems mean to take children out for candy and then take it away from them. I know, I know, there’s a cute little story to go along with it and you’re giving them a little thank-you gift in return. Still, thinking back to my own childhood days a billion years ago, I would have been really annoyed if someone took my candy while I was sleeping.

Second, what do you do with that candy? Someone paid for it. Someone was mindful about choosing it and taking the time to stand on their front porch and hand it out. It seems like a poor way to repay their hospitality by throwing it out when your child is asleep. And what if you donate it instead? To me, that has its own ethical implications. It’s not good enough for your child, but it’s good enough for a poor child who already has limited nutritional choices? I’m not sure I could personally justify that.

Finally—and to me, this is really the sticking point—it sends a very mixed message. You’re saying it’s great to go trick-or-treating, but not great to have the candy (arguably, at least by my children, the main point of trick-or-treating). And if it’s not OK, it is OK to tell your children no. Really, I promise, it is. It is perfectly acceptable to say “Look, we don’t need all that candy. It’s not healthy. This is what we’re doing instead.” To me, the Sugar Sprite feels a lot like trying to have one foot in each world, and I don’t want to do that. I want to be true to who I am and what I believe. More than that, I want my family to be true to who we are.

So, what can you do instead?

  1. You could go to a celebration that isn’t centered around candy. This might mean having your own Halloween party with lots of yummy nutritious treats. Or you could find a local event to attend. A third option would be to opt out of the Halloween theme altogether and have a harvest or All Saints Day party.
  2. You could do limited trick-or-treating: once around the block, or a “trunk-or-treat” event that’s contained to a parking lot, thus limiting how much candy gets brought home.
  3. You could do trick-or-treating as usual and pool the candy in a “treat jar,” doling out pieces for special occasions. That stuff does not not have an expiration date, trust me.
  4. You can eat a little bit of candy and use the rest for candy experiments. I actually tend to sort out the cheap “made in China” candy for this purpose, since I am concerned about recalls and testing of this sort of candy in past years.
  5. You could also sort and save candy for baking. Chocolate bars can replace chocolate chips, M&Ms for cookies, etc.

Personally, I do a combination of these. I let my children each pick out 10 pieces of their very favorite candy. That’s just for them. Then I go through and pull out what I want for candy experiments. The stuff that can be used for baking gets sorted out next and the rest goes in our treat jar.

I worried a little about posting this. It’s one of those things I’ve seen take off in the Waldorf homeschooling community over the last ten years or so, almost to the point of becoming dogma, sort of like Dorothy Harrer’s math gnomes. But I’ve been thinking a lot about the question “What is the heart of Waldorf homeschooling?” lately and the conclusion I have come to is that the main core is being authentic. Get to know who you are at your very core. Get to know your children’s hearts and minds and souls and tailor their education (within limits) around that. And so, if one tradition doesn’t work for you, it really is OK to find another path. I’m in no way talking about moral relativism here, but I think we need to ask ourselves the question “What is the main reason I am doing this?” and then find the route that gets us there. For me, the Sugar Sprite tradition doesn’t feel right. For other families, it’s been working great for years. For all of us, the main goal is to find a way to celebrate the beautiful autumn season with our families in a joyful and meaningful way.


  1. //

    I completely agree. When my first child was young we dressed up (because I love Halloween) but we went bowling or something else that was fun but not candy centered. As she got older we had a great time handing out the candy as we watch the costume parade come by;) and by the time she learned of TOTing we took her out but fortunately we live in a pretty small neighborhood. After the rounds we let them each have enough that night to seem like a feast to them and then we put it all up to be slowly handed out over time.

    1. //

      Limiting the trick or treating is one of our favorite ways to limit the candy as well.

  2. //

    We let them gorge themselves a bit after they collect the candy, then keep their baskets up high where they can’t reach and bribe them to pick up their playroom with it. 😉 “Want a piece of candy? Hmmm…. I see some toys on the floor!” Interesting where the gnomes came from, I figured ol’ Rudie didn’t start it. As you know, at my house WE USE GNOMES. 😉

    1. //

      LOL! I use it for bribes too.
      Ol’ Rudie is cracking me up.

  3. //

    I’ve never heard of this but just goes to show what lengths parent will go to in order to let their kids have fun but not suffer the sugary comas for weeks later. In recent years we’ve stopped celebrating the Halloween holiday. No dressing up or candy. The boys say about how we don’t celebrate cause it’s evil. It is also Karter’s birthday right before so we try to focus on that. I don’t like doing candy either (mostly cause mommy ends up eating more than her share). Karter made a observation the other day how it’s silly people go house-to-house when the store has super big bags of just the candy you like!

    1. //

      I’m actually not sure if we’ll go trick or treating this year or not. We went to a party at a bookstore last week and are going to a party at Michael’s orchestra and the library this week, so I don’t personally see the need.

  4. //

    I appreciated this post. Thank you! We do not do the sugar sprite. It feels too manipulative to me, besides being contradictory. (The sugar sprite can eat this candy and it’s good for her, but you can’t eat it because it is bad for you??)

    We do go trick-or-treating in a limited area. I hate the candy, but I LOVE LOVE LOVE how it is the one night that people are actually on the streets, sitting on their porches, talking to each other, being NEIGHBORLY. People are generously GIVING things away for FREE! I love the spirit of it all. Families are out and about and the neighborhood feels alive! I mourn the loss of neighborliness in this country and I love feeling it this one evening a year. I think people can get singly focused on the candy, but I see such richness in the event and believe that my children are strong enough to survive a little crappy candy once a year. I have faith in the goodness and joy of it and in all the million other things I do to keep my children healthy.

    My kids do voluntarily take some of their goodies to a local health food store that gives them goodie bags in exchange. They get to choose some special ones and the rest usually gets forgotten pretty quickly. But, I like that treat jar idea. Maybe I will add that in this year.

    Thanks for your thoughts and I hope you all enjoy the neighborly, generous spirit of the season!

    1. //

      I wish we had a trade-in program like that around here!

  5. //

    I think this is the first year I’m going to have to deal with this issue. The previous years my daughter hardly remembered the candy. I like all the suggestions and realized I need to now start thinking about it. Only a few more weeks!

    1. //

      It’s kind of exciting negotiating all these new stages of parenthood. Hoping you find some great traditions that work for you!

  6. //

    We use a similar story of a Pumpkin Fairy, but the truth is my almost 4-year-old doesn’t really like most of the candy and would rather the gift. We let her keep some of the candy that she likes (lollipops and M&M’s), but we would end up eating the rest of it anyway because she just doesn’t like it. I still have her chocolate Easter bunny sitting on my desk unopened. She loves only a few things. We also enjoyed a book Eve, The Halloween Fairy which has a similar premise but the fairies go trick-or-treating for Eve’s birthday since she loves treats but cannot make treats with her magic.

    1. //

      I’ll have to check out that book. It sounds really great!

  7. //

    Thank you for posting this. I’ve felt weird the past couple of years for not wanting to implement the Sugar Fairy idea. So it’s nice to read I’m not alone. We also utilize several of your suggestions for the candy. I think I most appreciate what you said about being authentic — as a relatively new mom to Waldorf, that is a valuable reminder.

    1. //

      I think authenticity is something we’re all striving for.

  8. //

    Love that you wrote about this and love your reasons why you opt out! Yes, doing something just because the Joneses are, even the very Waldorfy Joneses, doesn’t mean you should be doing it.

    At our house, we DO get a visit from the Sugar Plum Fairy, but part of that is because some of my children have dental issues (one a spacer and one a capped front tooth after chipping it) and so we give the Fairy sticky candies and things the kids can’t have – this way they still get a treat, but they aren’t *that* child standing on the neighbor’s front porch sorting through the candies going, “nope,can’t have that, can’t have this either” 🙂

    The Fairy at our house doesn’t throw the candy away, she builds houses with it in Sugar Plum Land (aka – donates it to the workers at Daddy’s office where it is definitely appreciated). Plus, my kids aren’t big candy eaters either, beyond their very favorites, and this is a solution where we don’t have leftover candy in the pantry I’m throwing away at Easter time (which has happened in the past) or that I don’t eat it all (ahem, which has also happened). We keep some, eat some, bake with some, experiment with some, too. For my kids it is more about the costumes and dressing up (something they started planning this year back in August, ha ha!)

    We also focus on this as a gift and the children can always choose not to do it (though they wouldn’t be allowed the sticky candies anyway) because, yes, someone coming in and just taking your candy would be horrible!

    Every family has to do what is right for them, but I promise the Waldorf police won’t show up on your doorstep either way 🙂

    Thanks for taking this subject on, Annette! This is a good discussion to have.

    Best wishes,

    1. //

      I love this:
      Yes, doing something just because the Joneses are, even the very Waldorfy Joneses, doesn’t mean you should be doing it.

      And like I said to Becca, I really do appreciate the feedback. Hearing how families actually do it is a lot different than what I had pictured in my mind.

  9. //

    We’ve just always put it in a bag and doled it out over time. The first year we went trick or treating, we had candy left over past the next year trick or treating (: I didn’t know anything about fairies and candy!

    1. //

      Once my kids see the candy, they already have it mentally in their mouths.

  10. //

    For me it’s saying that it’s ok to have a little candy, but not in excess. We love to ring people’s door bells and say trick or treat, but those treats are oh, so abundant. We don’t even go for very long but still it’s just too much. My kiddos love the sugar fairy tradition and they do get plenty of candy that evening but then it’s whisked away to fairy land and a new little toy is found. I find it so fun. The candy is then sent to work where the adults who bought the candy can eat it. My husband’s work always has candy out year round for their customers. So, perfect place to unload it. lol Anyway, to each their own.

    1. //

      Thanks for sharing your perspective Becca! I’ll admit that a lot of the feedback I got on this, both here and on Facebook, made me look at it in a different light. I had in my mind a very narrow view of how it worked, so it’s great to hear families share the details of how they do it.

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